St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen hosts special service for Old Portoran who became Blessed John Sullivan


A large congregation of people from across Ireland joined Archbishops from the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic churches and the Bishop of Clogher on Sunday to mark the life and work of the Blessed John Sullivan SJ in St. Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen.

The Service of Choral Evensong in Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of the Blessed John Sullivan, an Old Portoran, was attended by the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, an Old Portoran; the Most Revd Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin; the Bishop of Clogher, the Right Revd John McDowell; the Revd Fr Tom Clayton, former Provincial of the Jesuit Order in Ireland; Right Revd Monsignor Joseph McGuinness, Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Clogher and Right Revd Monsignor Peter O’Reilly, Parish Priest of St. Michael’s Church, Enniskillen and the Dean of Clogher, the Very Revd Kenneth Hall, who conducted the service.

The Lord Lieutenant, Viscount Brookeborough also attended.

The music and praise reflected the setting and included hymns “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,” and “Abide with Me” written by Henry Francis Lyte, who attended Portora in the early 1800s. Leading the singing was St. Macartin’s Cathedral Choir, led by Director of Music and Organist, Glenn Moore; Assistant Director of Music, Jayne Hazlett; Assistant Organist, Matthew Murphy and Cantor, David Robertson.

The Choir of Enniskillen Royal Grammar School conducted by Director of Music, Ann Bloomfield and the Clongowes Wood College SJ Schola led by Director of Liturgy, Cyril Murphy, sang anthems.

The readings were by Miss Elizabeth Armstrong, Principal of Enniskillen Royal Grammar School and the Revd Fr Michael Sheil SJ, Rector of Clongowes Wood College.

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Most Revd Dr. Michael Jackson, a former Chairman of the Board of Governors and former pupil of Portora Royal School, in his sermon, referred to Portora’s motto; “omnes honorate; honour everyone.”

He said that as Ireland developed and as Portora expanded both its intake of pupils and its remit of influence, the origin of the school was never forgotten.

“The recognition and the acceptance of such history has not impeded the evolving and the enriching contributions that Portora has made to history, local and universal, through the centuries. This proved to be invaluable during the days that cannot be forgotten, because what was done cannot be undone, that is during the days of The Troubles.

“During this sustained period of recent history, while emotions ran high; and while the local character of community life, relationships and neighbourliness in the fullness of time came home to help more than it did to hinder; this invitation to give honour to everyone was fiercely tested yet sustained in and out of school. The capacity of Enniskillen and of County Fermanagh generally to live through The Troubles and to live through the iconic and tragic events of The Enniskillen Bomb and their devastating aftermath bears witness to the wider applicability of such a motto to a range of situations - and right across this county. Honour counters horror; violence is not victorious; God is not mocked,” he told the congregation.

Referring to John Sullivan’s early years at Portora Royal School, Archbishop Jackson said: “The Portora of John Sullivan was in many ways familiar family territory. His father was a Portoran, as was his brother. Classics were in his day, so to speak, the chemistry of our day. With a classical education you could do virtually anything, you could undertake most careers. John Sullivan went from Portora to read Classics in Trinity College, Dublin and then to read for The Bar. His father was The Lord Chief Justice of Ireland and there were all the signs that John Sullivan has the skills and the talents to be successful in this area of life.

“His life took a different turn and has given us the glorious and unique opportunity to be here - and here together - today. He moved from high end to humility; from profile to pastoral concerns; from self to God and God’s people. We come to a church building that would probably have been known to John Sullivan as somewhere to which the School would come for Sunday Services.

“It’s worship is something to which he never really refers yet his knowledge of both The Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic traditions stood to him and stands to us today through the example of lived holiness in the everyday things of life for which he has become renowned. It is this combination of what once seemed impossible, and that now seems in so many parts of the world to be natural, humane and organic - by which I mean friendship across fractured traditions, respect across embedded sectarianisms - that makes both the Portoran family, as the Portoran presence at The Service of Beatification in The Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street, Dublin showed, and the Jesuit family, as their presence here today shows, equally grateful for John Sullivan.

“His openness to ‘the two traditions’ is something that is of the spirit of the two schools with which he will ever be associated: Portora Royal School and Clongowes Wood College. ‘Aeterna non caduca: eternal not falling’ is the Clongowes motto. It too points us to a noble ideal and a positive aspiration for self-understanding and for service of others. It is very important for us all to keep our eyes on higher ideals and not to let our expectations falter and fall. The honouring of others marches with the raising of aspirations to create engaged citizenship and to advance the public good. We live in a world where love no longer is a public good. We must look to principled youth,” he stated.

Archbishop Jackson praised the contribution which Clongowes Wood College has made to events in Fermanagh, sharing a link with Portora.

“For all of this Enniskillen and its generations of young people remain grateful to The School where John Sullivan lived for the greater part of the second half of his life - Clongowes Wood College. The other thing that Clongowes has given to us in Enniskillen is The Joyce-Beckett literary link and The Joyce-Beckett Literary Award.

“It is to young people that we who find ourselves inside those institutions should look, as well as looking to those of mature and radical experience. We need a blended economy of commitment and vision to build a just society. In all humility, we need to start all over again with comprehension and compassion meeting realism and response. These deliberate actions will bring us back to words and activities of which we have long tired: compromise and reconciliation but which we have to re-learn - that is if we even want to try, North, South, East and West, to do what a predecessor of mine referred to as: Learning to agree to disagree agreeably,” he concluded.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in a reflection, described the service as a “unique” occasion and thanked the Bishop of Clogher, Right Revd John McDowell, for his invitation and the congregation at St. Macartin’s Cathedral for their welcome.

Archbishop Martin said: “John Sullivan did not become holy when he became a Catholic and he didn’t become holy when he became a Jesuit. His roots go back to his early childhood, to his days in Portora when he had a great reflection in the Scriptures.

“He is a fruit of both traditions and there is a way he lived that enabled him to rise above those traditions,” he said.

He described how John Sullivan offered his services to the sick in particular.

“He had this extraordinary care for the sick and one of the things he had was he had time for the sick, he spent time with them, he listened to then and prayed with them and helped them to face the challenges of life and death,” he told the congregation.

He said holiness was the call of Christians but that John Sullivan was a model of holiness.
“A holy person must be a person who has the care of Jesus for the sick, the troubled and those weighing with heavy burdens.”

He concluded: “We pray for all of us that John Sullivan can rise above the narrowness of our lives.”
The prayers were led by Brigadier John Graham, President of the Old Portoran Union; Revd Canon Desmond Kingston, former Chaplain of Portora Royal School; Hector Lloyd, great, great grand nephew of John Sullivan and Revd Fr Tom Clayton, former Provincial of the Irish Jesuit Province.

Additional notes;
John Sullivan was born in Dublin on 8th May 1861. His father, the future Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan was Church of Ireland. His mother, Lady Bessie Josephine Sullivan was a Roman Catholic. John was baptised in St. George’s Church of Ireland on 15th June 1861 and brought up in the Anglican tradition of his father. In 1873, John attended Portora Royal School, Enniskillen and then Trinity College Dublin. He distinguished himself in classics and then left Ireland to study law at Lincoln’s Inn following his father’s sudden death.
In December 1896 at the age of 35, he made a momentous decision and was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, London. He returned to the family home in Dublin and became a regular visitor to hospitals and convents and in September 1900, John Sullivan entered the Society of Jesus. He was ordained a priest on 28th July 1907 and appointed to the staff in Clongowes Wood College, Kildare. He died on 19th February 1933.
His beatification was the first ever to take place in Ireland on 13th May 2017.